Theatre is a constantly evolving art form, and theatre practitioners across the country are constantly hacking away at new formats. Danish Hussain’s Guards At The Taj and Mohit Takalkar’s Gajab Kahani are two upcoming black box plays that are set to be staged in the city. Black box, in simple words, is a flexible form of theatre as opposed to the traditional form. It uses a room with four black walls, and movable seating, lighting and stage devised to create an immersive four dimensional experience. Theatre director Takalkar of Aasakta Pune says, “There are five basic ways to stage a play — with the audience on one side (proscenium style), two sides (centre stage), three sides, four sides, or environmental staging, in which the audience and actors intermingle. The beauty of a black box theatre is that you can have any of those possibilities within one theatre space, sometimes within the same show.”
Besides the black box format, both the plays are set in an older world. While Guards At The Taj is an adaption of Pultizer finalist Rajiv Joseph’s play, and depicts the story of two men in 17th century India, Takalkar’s Gajab Kahani is a Hindi rendition of Jose Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey, which charts the journey of an elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in 1551.
Talking about the content of the play and its treatment in the black box format, Hussain, who runs the theatre group Hoshruba Repertory, says, “The logic of theatre allows us to experience truth together. The black box format can facilitate that by immersing you (the audience) in the story and the action. Compared with the proscenium style, which is often more about what you are able to watch and hear, a well-designed and executed black box experience allows us to engage directly with our own responses and our reactions, pushing us beyond the limits of our imagination,” he says.
- Darkroom 2.0 will be staged on May 6 at Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Girgaon; May 7 at Whistling Woods Andheri Base, Andheri (W); and May 21 at Clap, Malad (W).
- Guards At The Taj will be staged from April 30 to May 7, at G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi.
- Gajab Kahani will be staged on May 21 and from May 24 to May 28th at G5A, Mahalaxmi.
But Takalkar says although he was initially excited about the format, once the rehearsals started, he realised the challenges were aplenty. “In a proscenium play, you have the view point of the audience; you can see the face or imagine a sort of invisible frame. But here, we want the play to happen around the black box, where the audience is a part of the experience. It has taken a lot of time to evolve the necessary design. The first couple of rehearsals were a completely nightmare, but now it’s all better,” he explains. Lamenting the lack of experimenting, Takalkar adds, “On one hand, we feel that theatre is dying and we don’t have enough response from the audience, but somewhere, we all want to be part of a live action. And with the black box concept, we are moving in a direction where we can help the audience become a part of the action. The technology we call 4D, or what happens at IMAX where you feel you are part of the film, is something that black box allows. We need to use different techniques like this.”
While there are many other plays that use the black box format, Tushar Dalvi’s play, The Darkroom Project, which is set to be staged this month, creates a unique experience: the audience travels through a space while not just seeing classic stories being performed, but experiencing them via multiple senses. The performance begins with the audience blindfolded before they enter the hall. After that, they “experience” stories from authors such as Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto and Munshi Premchand. Dalvi shares that he was introduced to the format while studying in the UK. “I was fortunate to be able to join a local youth theatre group run by Live Theatre in Newcastle. It was there that I had the chance to see some wonderful works on an intimate scale as well as some unusual experiments such as found space/alternate space theatre,” he says. When asked whether Dalvi prefers black box to proscenium, he says, “To be honest, black box theatre or intimate theatre is more affordable for smaller groups. Their revenue share model enables us to have a platform to showcase our talent. Also, traditional theatre has limited scope for experimentation at the moment. For example, in the revised version of our play, The Darkroom 2.0, we have brought in the touring audience format that one can experience at live museums abroad such as the Beamish museum in Durham, UK, and the Mafwe Living Museum in Kongola, Namibia.”